Commons Confidential: Wrath of Ian Blackford, the humble crofter

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Jeremy Corbyn’s grandfatherly focus on providing more free childcare may reflect a traumatic experience of his grey eminence, Seumas Milne, at a sensitive age while roughing it in Winchester College. According to a sixth former who imbibed, circa 1970, in one of the cathedral city’s scruffier pubs, the tavern’s landlord was startled to peer over the bar to find a piping 12-year-old in clever-clogs scholar’s gown demanding a double brandy and ginger. “Look here, lads,” groaned the innkeeper, “I don’t mind turning a blind eye to you bigger boys but if I serve him I could lose my licence. Can you kick him out?” The big ’uns didn’t hesitate. Out Seumas went. Fast forward to the 2019 campaign trail and he’d enjoy sweet revenge if Labour wins, raising income tax on successful Old Wykehamists.

Sajid Javid’s nervousness about what the future holds isn’t calmed, I hear, by either Boris Johnson’s assurances or CCHQ regularly putting up the Chancellor’s deputy, Rishi Sunak, on TV to dodge questions. The former hedge-fund manager, who succeeded William Hague in Richmond (Yorks), is held in high esteem by Tory strategists. Sunak has not given a straight response all campaign.

So furious was SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford when Lib challenger Craig Harrow distributed a leaflet in the shape of a £50,000 cheque – mocking the Nat’s nice littler earner as director of a funeral trust fund and telecom firm – that the “humble crofter”, as former banker Blackford likes to style himself, demanded his party hit back. The SNP list of Lib MPs with second jobs included Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross’s Jamie Stone on the tenuous grounds he owns a field. It was hardly burying him.

Corbyn might be relieved that blocked Chris Williamson isn’t a Labour candidate after the Chief Rabbi’s assault on the party’s anti-Semitism problem. Williamson, standing as an independent socialist in Derby North, moans that his biggest mistake was letting the leader’s office force him to apologise for past remarks. It could be worse, Jezza.

An Andrew Neil grilling wasn’t Nicola Sturgeon’s only discomfort. Scotland’s First Minister was smarting after she was described as “very distant and cold” with a “lack of empathy” in unflattering cables to Madrid from Miguel Angel Vecino when he was Spain’s consul in Edinburgh. The undiplomatic messages, published by Vozpópuli, accuse “opportunistic” Sturgeon of shocking ignorance and lack of interest in international politics. SNP support for Catalan separatists doesn’t go unnoticed on the Iberian Peninsula.

Does fitness freak Tom Watson starting samba lessons mean only one thing: Strictly?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article appears in the 29 November 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The English Question